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February, 2006

Lee Mullican’s “An Abundant Harvest of Sun” is a mini overview that includes about 20 drawings--all lovely--some 40 odd paintings and sculptures (these are the least convincing; Mullican was a master of 2-D virtuosity, not 3-D) tossed in for good measure.  Throughout his career Mullican did not stray far from the subjects and sensibility we see again and again here: drawing from some unconscious place much the way Paul Klee did, Mullican produced abstract compositions that call up Persian designs, American Indian patterns, Asian calligraphy, even Tibetan sand paintings, all mixed into a Surrealist foundation (he was at the center of the Dynaton group in San Francisco, along with Gordon Onslow Ford and Wolfgang Paalen).  In nearly all the works there is a delicate balance between obsessive, free-form imaginative shapes and grand design, and between figuration and abstraction.

Lee Mullican, "Untitled," 1946,
sienna wash on paper, 25 1/8 x 18".
This was a theme that Mullican stayed with as he tried to sort out the connection between “primitive” and Western modes of visual communication.  What reads consistently in these sonorously colored, eccentrically patterned works is his concern for the shamanistic potential of abstract art--for both the contemplative maker of his mandala-like images, and for the viewer willing to slow down enough to absorb them fully (LACMA, West Hollywood).

Ynez Johnston, "The Secret Land-
scape," 1978, color intalio, 25 x 16 1/4".

Max Pollack, "San Francisco, Between the Bridges,"
1949, etching and aquatint, 12 15/16 x 19 15/16".

“Inhabited World,” the title of a colored etching and aquatint produced in 1962 by Ynez Johnston, conveys the overall theme of this little jewel of a show comprised of prints by the late Max Pollak and two and three-dimensional work by Johnston.  Pollak often applied color directly to his etching plates, producing unique prints that owe some of their mystique to his appreciation of work by Whistler.  Pollak had a way with descriptive contour line that enabled him to capture the individual characteristics of inhabitants and architecture of diverse locals including San Francisco, Paris, New York and Central America.  Johnston illustrates the rhythms of life in remote cultures more symbolically, deftly aligning linear elements, geometric shapes and supporting color in her prints, sculpture and vibrant paintings.  Viewers intent on examining diverse and inventive printmaking techniques and/or traveling vicariously will treasure this exhibition (Tobey C. Moss Gallery, West Hollywood).

Shooting whole rolls of film on one object and treating the results as studied “sketches,” Thomas Kellner then produces an image of familiar travel spots from the subtle compilation. Over-used postcard fodder like the Golden Gate Bridge become sophisticated, formally pristine and mysterious; we sort of recognize now iconic forms of bridge or Renaissance interior, but stronger than particulars is the wonder and desire we feel when we venture far away (Stephen Cohen Gallery, West Hollywood).

Thomas Kellner, "02#10, Paris,
Tour Eiffel," 1997.

J. Bennett Fitts is a photographer who looks closely at how man has altered the landscapes.  In a previous exhibition he presented images golf courses.  Here he documents abandoned motel pools from all over the U.S.  Entitled “No Lifeguard on Duty” these large scale color photographs indulge in both color and light.  Shot mostly during sunset hours, when the hues of the sky approximate the hues of the empty pools, the images have an eerie emptiness and a sense of nostalgia.  

J. Bennett Fitts, "Victorville," photograph.
They suggest a longing for a different era, a time when perhaps the motels were thriving, while simultaneously presenting the abandoned forms as architectural relics and objects for which there is no use (Paul Kopeikin Gallery, West Hollywood).

Morgan Craig, "In Reticence A Thousand
Voices," 2005, oil on linen, 72 x 48".
Loft interiors in a state of renovation or ruin are the subject of Morgan Craig’s crisp paintings.  Strong contrasts of dark and light and often dramatic viewing angles breath life into spaces you wouldn’t choose to hang out in.  The viewing angles Jay Brockman favors look up city streets from the perspective of a car passenger.  
The chaos of headlines, signals, windows, towers all set against the resting place of the sky plunges your eye downward into a man-made purgatory.  More speculative are Kathleen Buckley’s urban settings, at first blush calling to mind ‘city of the future’ animations and those wonderful David (“The Way Things Work”) Macaulay books.  Taut, aggressive line work by turns may only hint at architectural structures, depict them under construction, or give in to a clearly observable environment.  All three artists are graphically strong, and clearly brought together to complement one another (Lawrence Asher Gallery, West Hollywood).

William Kentridge’s “7 Fragments for Georges Melies” is a multi-part work of short films presented as an installation.  Kentridge, who is best known for his drawings and animated films, here uses the works of the French filmmaker and his 1902 film “Voyage to the Moon” as his point of departure.  Kentridge created a film in fragments--each of the short works depicts him at work in his studio, drawing, thinking and fantasizing about the epic journey.  A longer film is the actual journey--to the moon--as created through objects in the studio.  

William Kentridge, still from "Journey to
the Moon," 2003, video transferred to DVD.
As in all Kentridge’s work the process of making is the journey, and the fragments add up to the whole.  This installation, which was also presented at the Venice Biennial in 1995, is an exceptionally engaging work that can be enjoyed over and over again (MOCA at the PDC, West Hollywood).

The late painter James Doolin shows rare, relaxed small scale paintings of beaches and coastal areas not far from his Malibu home, where yellow, barely limned trailers sit in rolling hills.  What this tells us: the larger paintings we know him well for came from non-stop practice and from an intimate relationship with, and intense observation of nature (Koplin Del Rio Gallery, West Hollywood).

James Doolin, "Kawean River Bridge,"
1970, oil on masonite, 12 x 13".

Davis Cone shows meticulous paintings executed over the last several years of well known, and not so familiar, Art Deco theater facades.  Luminous oiled details exude a clear geographic, emotional, and cultural identity that is as real as any living thing (Forum Gallery, West Hollywood).

Davis Cone, "Cozy/Rainy Day," 2003, acrylic on canvas, 28 3/4 x 47 1/8".

Gronk, "The Garden," 2005, mixed media on canvas, 78 x 120".
Gronk has come a long way from the cartoony style of “Asco,” yet indirectly still addresses activism with dazzling, earth-toned seed and foliage-like imagery taken from his set designs for a Peter Sellers’ opera Ainadamar (“Fountain of Tears”), an homage to the Granada fountain where poet Garcia Lorca was assassinated by Fascists (Patricia Correia Gallery, Santa Monica).

Three painters from three art centers--L.A., S.F. and N.Y.--comprise this show of works that run the range from urban realism to color field.  Bay Area artist Michelle Muldrow shows mostly gauche on paper works that capture urban industrial settings, but in a loose handed almost impressionist style that is more nostalgic than mechanistic. New Yorker Derek Buckner uses intense color to paint larger scale responses to Muldrow’s urban views: suburban houses, buildings, garages, and the highways that connect them are intoned here with a precision that still sees the abstract infrastructure linking city and suburb together.

Derek Buckner, "Freeway #4," 2005, oil on canvas, 60 x 50".
Finally, local artist Glenn Ossiander contributes impastoed color-field paintings in which dense acrylics, deep texture and intense hue re-create the unique light and space of Southern California (George Billis Gallery, Culver City).

Victor Gastelum, "F.B.I. Girl,"
2005, spray paint on aluminum.
The drawing styles of Victor Gastelum and Amos complement each other, and the cartoon-like images that cover the walls here engage in a dialogue that incorporates art as well as politics.  Both artists exhibit framed drawings that bring street culture into the gallery.  Gastelum’s works are iridescent silk-screens whose subjects range from cars to women to fantasy figures.  Amos also lets his imagination run wild.  His drawings are surreal and futuristic.  Both artists are well known in the Chicano printmaking scene, where Amos also works as a master printer.  This show documents a friendship, and is in essence a point of departure from the street art that has consumed both artists (Overtones, Culver City).

“Divine Excess” the title of Cindy Craig’s exhibition of watercolors, refers to the world of high end consumer culture.  Craig’s paintings are about out of control women who indulge in excess--like numerous expensive diamond rings, designer pocketbooks as well as junk food. Figures included in the show stand in for ‘everywoman.’  The surrounding images depict different diamond rings (titled with their prices), the numerous kinds of juicy candy available in stores, as well as a can of Tab (the drink of the dieting woman).

Cindy Craig, "Harry Winstorn $92,000 Ruby
Ring," 2005, watercolor, 10 1/4 x 12 3/4".
These technically superb watercolors reflect a keen eye as well as a sense of humor (Hunsaker/Schlesinger Fine Art, Santa Monica).

Illustration from Steven Hull’s “Ab Ovo” project.
The artist as creative impresario, that’s Steven Hull.  “Ab Ovo” engages multiple tiers of 19 artists, who submitted themselves to being profiled by the Minnesota Multi Phasic Personality Inventory; 19 writers, who spun children’s stories featuring the profiled artists (anonymously assigned) as the main character; and 19 more artists, who illustrated the stories.  The illustrations, audio of the writers reading their stories, and copies of the personality tests (again, presented anonymously) make up an exhibition that takes full advantage of the chance encounter of creative artists working blindly independent of one another—in direct collaboration (Santa Monica Art Studios, Arena 1, Santa Monica).

In the spirit of Robert Frank, self proclaimed “folk photographer” Joe Schwartz, now in his 90s, has spent a good number of those years traveling the streets, the beaches, the bus stops and corners of Los Angeles in order to candidly capture in compelling black and white shots (often appearing in the Los Angeles Times)  images of  tinsel town’s “have nots.”  This is clearly not the L.A. of the papparrazzi.  Schwartz guides us to see the marginalized, the disenfranchised handled with a warmth and dignity that is honest but never maudlin (Skirball Cultural Center, West Los Angeles).

Joe Schwartz, "A Minute for the Funnies," Venice, 1960s.

Madonna/Batters/Gad #1," 2005, mixed media, 12 x 24".

Old posed snapshots of the artist, Simone Gad are collaged into visual companionship with softcore porn and cheap religious reproductions.  Paint scrawls out rough frames and titles, giving the entirety a decidedly seedy look.  The evocation of the “madonna-whore” cliché aside, her connection to the historical tradition of the nude and religious iconography is conveyed in savvy contemporary terms.  We see Gad as poofy-haired ingenue or comedienne, effectively telling us that if we think we know her. . . well, we don’t.  What commands attention is that the work isn’t coy about any of this.  A parallel series of building “portraits” push the painterly, jiggly things right up to the front of the picture plane, and they feel as in your face as they look (L2kontemporary, Downtown).

Talk about recycling found objects into art, Joel Heflin doesn’t just drive by those occasional abandoned shacks or trailers you’ll whiz past on a long driving trip.  He settles in to paint them over, transforming them into key aesthetic components within the landscape context.  Try to negotiate between the formal quality of the “after” photographs, and the romance of the process in the documentary shots; it’s tempting to root for one versus the other (The Office, Orange County).

Joel Heflin, photograph from
the "Found Measure Project."

Dianna Cohen, "African Image," 2005, plastic
bags, handles, and thread, 6 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 2".
Nodding to the whole tradition of junk sculpture and assemblage, “Raw Materials” is a downright charming show that includes artwork which uses as media materials that were intended for purposes other than art.  In the world of use and discard, of overrunning land fills, this show is both clever and left handedly poignant.  The wacky and wonderful “stuff”--from plastic bags to beer cans to defunct make-up--becomes all manner of sculpture and a new genre of art in the hands of eight southern California artists. Among these Lynn Aldrich’s sculptures exhume lengths of garden hose, and Steve de Groodt’s installations are made entirely out of cloth (Riverside Art Museum, Riverside).